I originally hail from the small, beach town of Ocean City, New Jersey, where I experienced the most incredible summers. I wrote a piece entitled “Sepia-Stained Memories” where I reminisced on my evenings there as a teenager roaming the boardwalk with my best friend. I still consider Ocean City my home.
“One summer Chrissy dated Rex, a boy who worked the Salt and Pepper Shakers at Wonderland Pier. I had a crush on a blond and mustached college boy, probably close to 10 years my senior, who ran the Zugspitz as it blared songs by The Hooters and Huey Lewis and the News. We tried to look alluring as we circled round and round, our bodies crushing together against the side of the car- a tame ride compared to the Sky Diver, a Ferris wheel with spinning metal cages that tossed you around like coins in a shaken piggy bank. We’d munch on Bob’s Lemonade’s cheese fries, carefully guarding each one from the seagulls screeching above, and trade coins for Swedish fish at the penny candy store. Chrissy would spend her allowance on Def Leppard and Van Halen pins at the Surf Mall, while I preferred the little vintage mart filled with black-and-white movie stills from the 1930s and 40s. We’d duck into Jilly’s Arcade to fight aliens or asteroids to the electronic symphony of bleeps, blips, and wakka-wakkas. At the time, we felt unstoppable, like we had the world at our dirty feet. And maybe we did, but I sure didn’t know it at the time. Like trying to get the elusive golden ring on the merry-go-round, I kept reaching toward the future instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride.”
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
Currently, I live in Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C. It’s the perfect location for someone who likes being both the country mouse and the city mouse. This area of Virginia boasts museums, theaters, and fine dining in one direction, while another route brings you to mountains, nature, and amazing wineries. The historical aspects alone make it a fascinating spot, especially for those curious about the Civil War. My husband and I live within a mile or two of Manassas Battlefield Park, a seminal point in the war.
What turns you on creatively?
I find the most inspiration when surrounded with artistic expression. As an avid reader and lover of theater and film, I thrive on diving inside the lives of well-crafted characters. I’m acutely aware of how much of me stems from experiencing their successes and struggles. Literature, and other forms of art, generate empathy. Through reading and film, I can sometimes even feel for the villains. I often comprehend the reasoning and motivation behind the very worst things that the characters do – even though I don’t always forgive them.
When I’m immersed in amazing works of art, it incites an internal passion to achieve the same with my own stories. Powerful stories can change the world.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
As a lover of the sea, words that evoke that setting are my favorite. And any person close to me knows that I claim my favorite word is buoy – only because it is so fun to say, ha!
But the word triumphant stands out to me as a word I favor when writing, like in my poem inspired by a lighthouse I visited in Portugal, “Cape Espichel.” For me, it stirs up images of an underdog struggling and fighting before finally experiencing that ecstatic feeling of success and freedom.
“Inhaling the brackish breath of Espichel In a dreamlike stance of recognition. My numb heart sprouts newly born wings As the gull soaring below Sings triumphant echoes of home.”
What is your pet peeve?
Only one? Ha!
Well, a pet peeve I have is when a person habitually complains about things without taking any steps to try to change the issue. Even if you do everything in your power to change the problem, and it does not work, at least you can say you tried. You didn’t sit there as a passive participant.
If you don’t agree with something that is happening, there are things to do rather than carping and posting on social media. For example, volunteer with a group or committee, talk to government leaders, write letters to the editor, start a petition, join a protest, or create and share art. The options are limitless. You can make a difference.
What defines Jennifer Christiansen?
Although everyone is comprised of so many facets, what defines me most is the love of experience and learning, a stubborn sense of self-reliance and perseverance, and a strong feeling of empathy.
If I’m not partaking in life by engaging with others’ stories and continuing my education, then I’m traveling and seeing everything I can. I also continue to challenge myself in personal growth and rarely give up. This can be seen in everything from running a half-marathon by myself to never giving up on my dream of having a traditionally published book (my new short-story collection related to Edgar Allan Poe is being submitted to publishers as we speak).
Empathy rears its head in many ways, especially in my fight for environmental issues and ending the suffering of animals.
I often ruminate on my favorite quote by Anais Nin and keep striving to become much better at living loudly and bravely.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Jennifer Christiansen, a writer and school librarian, lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two miniature schnauzers. She is an animal advocate, traveler, bibliophile, and lover of all things dark and romantic.